By Michelle Nichols
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - A confidential report to the United Nations Security Council found there have been attempts to smuggle weapons from Democratic Republic of Congo through Rwanda to rebels in Burundi where a political crisis threatens to spiral out of control.
The report by experts who monitor sanctions on Democratic Republic of Congo said Congolese authorities arrested Rwandan and Congolese civilians and two Congolese army officers in October and November on suspicion of arms smuggling.
They were caught at a border post between Congo and Rwanda with weapons, some of which "were hidden in bags of green beans or manioc, and others were hidden in the chassis of a car," the group of U.N. experts wrote in the report, seen by Reuters this week.
"The group conducted interviews with the perpetrators, some of whom confirmed that the weapons were to be used in support of an armed group in Burundi," the experts said. "The group was able to identify one of the (Congolese army) officers as have been involved in selling arms from (Congolese army) storage."
The U.N. experts did not say how many weapons were seized.
The Congolese army spokesman was not immediately available for comment on the U.N. report.
The U.N. report also accused Rwandan military of helping recruit and train Burundian refugees with the goal of ousting Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza. Rwandan U.N. Ambassador Eugene Gasana dismissed the accusations against Kigali.
Nkurunziza's re-election for a third term last year sparked the country's crisis and raised concerns that there could be a bloody ethnic conflict in a region where memories of Rwanda's 1994 genocide are still fresh.
Burundi and Rwanda have the same ethnic mix, about 85 percent Hutus and 15 percent Tutsis. A 12-year civil war in Burundi, which ended in 2005, pitted a Tutsi-led army against Hutu rebel groups.
The U.N. Security Council traveled to Burundi in late January, its second visit to the country in less than 10 months. The United Nations has estimated the death toll at 439 people in political violence since last April but has said it could be higher. More than 240,000 people have fled abroad and the country's economy is in crisis.
African leaders, who met in Addis Ababa last weekend, agreed to send a team to try to persuade Nkurunziza to accept a 5,000-strong African Union peacekeeping force after he rejected the plan and said any such force would be treated as an invasion.
(Additional reporting by Aaron Ross in Kinshasa; Editing by Alistair Bell)